Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock

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Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin
Knock Shrine, 21 April 2018

“This year’s Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock has special connotations.  This year a concerted effort has been made to involve a wider number of parishes from the Archdiocese of Dublin in the pilgrimage.  I greet these parish groups and I greet the many individual pilgrims from Dublin, and of course from all over Ireland and from abroad.

This year’s pilgrimage is special too because it takes place just a few months before the World Meeting of Families which will be held in Dublin in August and which the Holy Father, Pope Francis, will attend.  We want to pray today for the success of that world event and we want to pray for families, especially those family that experience difficulties and challenges.

Family is the place where the faith is lived and passed on from generation to generation, right from the earliest years.  Pope Francis on Wednesday last, at his General Audience in the Vatican, spoke about the many simple things parents can do in passing on the faith.  He repeatedly mentioned teaching children how to make the Sign of the Cross and how to make it properly and not slovenly.  The Sign of the Cross is remembering our Baptism where we were welcomed into the Christian community by our parents and Godparents who made the Sign of the Cross on our foreheads.

Our families are small Churches and new generations are welcomed into the life of faith and indeed into the riches of their own humanity through the love and care of their parents and of those who have their charge.

Families face problems.  However, we must first of all thank God for what families do and the for selfless generosity which marks family life.  Families face challenges every day. Families rally to address them.  We give thanks to God for our own parents and families.  We pray for those families who live with the experience of failure and suffering.  We pray that our young people will be inspired to take on the challenging yet fulfilling path of a love that is lifelong.

The Gospel reading we have just heard is a complex one.  It belongs in a chapter of Saint Mark’s Gospel where Jesus begins to face growing misunderstanding and rejection.  Saint Mark speaks of how even some members of his own family felt that “he was out of his mind” and that they wanted to come “to take charge of him”.

Next, the religious leaders claim that Jesus was actually working for Satan and that it was “through the prince of devils that he was casting out devils”.  Misunderstanding of his message comes from those who were outwardly close to him and from those who were religious leaders.

At this moment then, we’re told that his mother and his brothers arrived “standing outside” and the disciples tell Jesus, “Your mother and his brothers are waiting to speak to him”.

The response of Jesus is not quite what we might have expected.  Saint Mark uses a phrase which Jesus must have used in other occasions also.  Jesus asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” and he gives the reply himself, “Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and my sister and my mother”.

What is Jesus saying?  Jesus is making it clear that he is establishing a new family that goes beyond blood relationship.  Being a blood relation of Jesus, or being an expert in religious law, do not give an automatic entry into this new family.  Boasting of personal titles can even have the opposite effect and leave us “on the outside”.   Those close to Jesus are those who seek to do the will of God and not those who boast any title of their own.

Is Jesus somehow rejecting his mother?  Is she being left outside?  The message is the very opposite.  Mary is the one who more than any other human being accepts and carries out the will of God.  From the first moment we encounter Mary in the Gospels she is the one who answers: “Be it done to me according to your word”.

Mary is the physical mother of Jesus but she is also the true model of discipleship and the woman who teaches us more than any other what it means to form a close bond with Jesus.    Mary is the Mother of the new family of Jesus, the Church.  Mary is the mother of those who seek to do the will of God.   Through her “yes” to the will of God, she opened the door to the salvation that her son Jesus brings.

It is interesting to note that at the very beginning of Jesus’ public life, at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, Mary tells the servants to do what he tells them. At the very beginning of the public life of Jesus, we are told that the disciples of Jesus and his mother were there together.

In our first reading today, we see once again, at the moment in which the Church – the new family of Jesus – is about to be born, that those who remain true to him are once again his disciples, men and women, gathered with Mary his mother.

Jesus establishes a new family.  Is he then somehow rejecting the value of blood family?  No: he is telling us something deeper about family and about the Church.  He is telling us that doing the will of God transforms family and transform the Church.

Discipleship means that we must rise beyond the norms of the everyday world around us, not to flee from the world but to enrich that world.  The mission of the Christian family is to help its members to rise above the superficialities of any society by living that new law of love, which is the law of Jesus Christ.

The Church cannot be a church of conformism.  The Church is called to preach and witness to a message that will always be counter cultural.   Believers in Jesus Christ should never allow themselves to slide into conformity or compromise regarding fundamental values.

In our time, the Church and believers must always be pro-life.  The new family of Jesus, the Church, must always be a beacon of support for life at its most vulnerable moments and a beacon of support at any vulnerable moment of any woman or men along the path of life.

The Church must be pro-life when it comes to the unborn and those who are vulnerable at the end of their lives. However, the Church must be pro-life at so many other moments in the lives of people. Being pro-life means recalling all of us to reflect on the deeper meaning of life and to reject many of the paths of superficiality that just lead away from fulfillment.    The Church is called to be pro-life not just in words and statements and manifestoes but to be pro-life in deeds, through being a Church which reflects the loving care of Jesus especially for those who grapple to understand the challenges of their lives.

Being pro-life is not an ideological position.  It is a path of conversion that we are all called to follow.  Church institutions have failed many times in their duty to witness to the love of Jesus to those entrusted to their care.   It is a sad fact that has led many to drift away from the message of Jesus.

“Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and my sister and my mother”.  We pray in this holy place that Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of the Church, will take each of us under her embrace and her protection.  Like any mother, however, Mary wishes us her children to have the strength not just to do the will of God, but to witness to others of the joy and fulfillment that living a life like hers, doing the will of God, can bring.

May Mary protect our families as we entrust the World Meeting of Families to her care.”